By Richard Roeper
The Dark Tower
Directed by Nikolaj Arcel
THE MAGIC MAN’S face is so buffed and shiny, it looks as if a Botox truck hit him.
His hair looks to be of a color not found in nature. It is so immovable the Jersey Boys would look to him for styling tips.
Moving about with flair and showmanship, he fills the air with cocky banter as he performs amazing feats.
He catches bullets in his bare hands! He can put mere mortals to sleep with a simple turn of phrase! He gazes into his magic crystal ball and can see all! And wait: Is that FIRE dancing from his hand? It is!
If you caught this guy’s act in a second-tier casino in Vegas because David Copperfield’s show was sold out, you might enjoy the performance.
Problem is, the sorcerer I’ve described here is Matthew McConaughey’s Man in Black, aka Walter O’Dim, aka the most evil and terrifying entity in the galaxy. As the devil incarnate in The Dark Tower, he’s supposed to send chills down your spine and give you nightmares, but he’s nothing but a preening, one-dimensional goof.
I’m more frightened by the car commercial version of McConaughey who tells his dogs they’re not going for sushi again.
A great actor giving a terrible performance as the lead villain is but one of the many, many, MANY unfortunate elements in The Dark Tower, which is inspired by the Stephen King book series but comes across as more of a tribute to big-budget but poorly made sci-fi thrillers from the 1980s.
The cinematography has a washed-out, dull tone. The special effects are mediocre. With a few exceptions, the dialogue is stilted and filled with expository passages so obviously intended to explain things to us, I half-expected characters to turn to the camera and say, “Here’s what you need to know so you can understand what’s happening.”
Tom Taylor plays Jake Chambers, an 11-year-old boy plagued by intensely realistic nightmares featuring the aforementioned Man in Black, a Gunslinger on a mission to track down and kill the MIB, and a mysterious tower of epic proportions. Jake’s notebooks and his bedroom walls are filled with drawings taken directly from these dreams.
Through a series of events with more than a passing similarity to certain circumstances in the first Terminator movie (with a generous helping of the Men in Black movies on the side), we learn Jake isn’t crazy, and in fact his dreams are accurate visions of an intergalactic war taking place far beyond Earth (or Keystone Earth, as it is known in those otherworldly circles).
Jake finds a portal in Brooklyn (“A Portal in Brooklyn,” wasn’t that a Simon & Garfunkel song?) and is sucked into the strange and forbidding Mid-World, with its vast mountains and deep, dark forests.
(References to Stephen King works including It and 1408 pop up from time to time in this movie. These types of Easter eggs can be fun, but in this case add practically nothing to the story at hand.)
In quick fashion, Jake stumbles upon the Gunslinger (Idris Elba) from his dreams. After the obligatory, gruff “go home kid” stuff from the Gunslinger, they join forces in the hopes of finding the elusive Walter O’Dim.
So it turns out the Dark Tower is a real thing. It is the one and only barricade protecting the inhabitants of all the planets (including Keystone Earth) from the unrelenting forces of evil lurking on the other side.
For eons, Walter O’Dim has been launching attacks on the Dark Tower. He wants to destroy the tower and become the ruler of a monstrous, hellish world. (Doesn’t sound like much fun, but at least Walter has goals.)
But get this! The only weapon that can do damage to the Dark Tower is the psychic power of an exceptional child. These kids are said to have a “shine” – something miraculous in their mind that gives them supernatural abilities. Walter and his army of monsters have been systematically kidnapping children, torturing them and using their psyches as missiles to take down the tower.
I’m not kidding.
Our boy Jake has the greatest shine of them all, so even as Jake and the Gunslinger pursue Walter, it’s Walter who is setting the trap on Keystone Earth to lure them into his web. (Bahahahaha!) If Walter can harness Jake’s shine, he can destroy the Dark Tower once and for all!
The Dark Tower briefly springs to life when Jake and the Gunslinger return to New York. We’ve seen this “alien amazed by our crazy world” shtick before, but it’s still funny when the Gunslinger reacts to a couple of call girls on the subway, and a clip he sees on TV featuring talking animals.
But soon we’re plunged back into the tedious tug-of-war between the smirking Walter and the noble but beleaguered Gunslinger, with little Jake trying to learn how to use his powers while coping with tragic personal loss. (Unfortunately, young Tom Taylor is in over his head, especially when he’s called upon to go big and convey shock and sorrow, or demonstrate fierce heroics.)
Perhaps someone, someday, will have another go at The Dark Tower, and it will be a chilling and profound sci-fi Spaghetti Western, with meaningful King Arthur mythology and enduring characters.
The door is wide open. It won’t take much to make us forget this version. – Chicago Sun-Times/Andrews McMeel Syndication
Rating: One star
MTRCB Rating: PG